Thursday, July 26, 2012

To Brine or Not to Brine....That is the Question.

A few years ago when I first got started doing BBQ, my dear mother-in-law had found me an article on brining.  The recipe was simple, 2 qts. water to 5/8 cup Kosher Salt or 1/2 cup Pickling Salt (pickling salt will break down in cold water, Kosher Salt won't).  Your most basic of brine.  I tried it on a pork loin and found it kept my pork loins tender with a good flavor.  And so began the deep, dark obsession for the perfect brine.  So what does a brine do for the BBQ process, and how can a brine bring some flavor to the party?  Basically, a brine works by hydrating the meat cells.  The salt helps to weaken the cell walls which allows more water to flow back into them in an effort to reach a balance of salinity.  While the salt initially draws out fluids, things have to work for a balance, so back in goes the liquid.  I'm sure I could have talked about osmosis, diffusion, and other scientific stuff; however, the point is BRINING IS GOOD.  Remember yall, that is a word now.  A lot of brines include sugar.  There is something to do with sugar being hygroscopic which means "absorbs water".  This explains why if you leave sugar out in the open, it will lump up and become hard as a rock.  It has absorbed moisture and locks the bonds up tight.  Since I believe table sugar is a disaccharide, it takes heat to break the bonds, so it is best to either use a monosaccharide or heat up the table sugar in a simple syrup and add it to the brine.  Better yet, you can heat your brine up to breakdown the Kosher Salt since it won't dissolve in cold water, mix in the sugar and whatever else you want-bingo!  A brining solution.  I'm sure Alton Brown does a better job of explaining the science behind it all, but you get the general gist of the message.  No, I don't have a secret lab under my house.....not yet anyway.  And yes, I do wish there was an Alton Brown Fan Club with secret decoder ring.  I digress.  So, now we have a basic brine, what else?  To be honest, I get really creative with my brines.  I have one recipe that I have conjured up that is really a great one.  Speaking of Alton Brown, he has a brine that he uses at Thanksgiving for his turkey.  I have used it for the last three years, and it is great!  Here is the link for the recipe Alton Brown's Turkey Brine.  Myron Mixon's BBQ Cookbook that I reviewed talked about his rib brine/marinade which included ginger ale, orange juice, and I believe Soy Sauce among other things. There you get the salt, the liquid and the sweet that makes a good brine.  The good thing about a brine is the longer you do it, the better it is.  Now that's not to say I would leave chicken thighs in the brine for 12 hours, but 2-4 hours is a good amount.  You aren't creating jerky.  You are just trying to infuse a little flavor that can also be done with an injection (which is basically a brine that is shot in instead of allowed to work naturally).  Be careful of your injections when it comes to a Boston Butt.  Too much salt will give it a "hammy" taste which isn't what you want.  What meats tend to accept brines well you ask?  Any white meat, dark poultry meat, seafood, pork, ribs, whatever you like.  While I have never brined a brisket, you can and you will wind up with pastrami.  As for recipes for a brine, you can surf the web and find dozens of them.  If you look at many recipe books for chicken, they call for brining in Italian Salad Dressing or Raspberry Vinaigrette.  The effect is the same:  breaking down those cell walls so the meat can accept more liquid and flavor.  More liquid equals moister BBQ.  So next time you have some chicken or a nice pork loin that is going on the smoker, give a brine a try.  I don't think you will be disappointed.  And we all know that good BBQ is always Good Eats.....that's shout out to Alton Brown or "AB" in the know.  Yall enjoy and Riley says hello.

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